Warming Greetings !
At last, the bees are buzzing, the sun is shining and I’ve heard the first cuckoo of the year. So it’s a great time for this new regular feature looking at a medicinal plant or a herbal treatment method in focus.


Latin name: Galium aparine
Also called Clivers, Sticky Willows, Sticky Willies and Robin-Run-The-Hedge, whatever name it is you use for it, we all know this plant. It’s the sticky one that grows up through the other plants in the garden. Kids have loads of fun picking it and throwing it at each other.

It has numerous uses as an herbal medicine. It’s well-known to professional herbalists and is a commonly-used medicine in their clinics. For all it grows abundantly around us, it is often hard to find extracts of it available in health food shops. So if we want to use it ourselves then it’s much better to learn how to identify it and the various methods of using it to make remedies at home. Its medical properties are varied and it was once so highly thought of that it was even used in a major hospital right here in Ireland. Read on to learn more!

Parts used: all the bits above the ground (i.e. stem and leaves) when the plant is fresh and vibrant in the spring and early summer.

How to use it: the easiest way to use cleavers is to make tea or an herbal infusion. Pick the cleavers, wash it, put it in a pot, pour on boiled water. Let it infuse for 10 mins – 1 hour. Strain and drink. The amount that is recommended varies depending on the reason you’re taking it and whether or not you’re trying to treat a specific condition. However, most people benefit from it as a general tonic by drinking a cup or two of it daily when it is in season.


To reduce swollen glands e.g. tonsillitis: Cleavers is one of a group of herbs that herbalists refer to as a ‘lymphatic’. This is because it is believed to stimulate the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a major part of the immune system: lymph nodes and glands such as the tonsils are the nuts and bolts of this system. Drinking and/or gargling cleavers tea can help to ease the pressure on the lymphatic system and to drain swollen glands.

For its ‘detoxifying’ actions: ‘Detox’ is a word that gets bandied about a lot nowadays with all sorts of products claiming to be ‘detoxifying’. However, part of the function of the lymphatic system is to help to remove metabolic waste products and to clean them up so that the waste products don’t continue to circulate around the body. So a healthily functioning lymphatic system should prevent a build-up of waste products in the body. Cleavers also supports the kidneys and is a diuretic. The kidneys help to filter waste products from the body so consuming cleavers regularly can help to support the elimination of waste via these organs. So yes, if you’ve been over-indulging recently or simply feel a bit sluggish then adding fresh cleavers tea in to your daily routine for a week or so should help to pick up your energy and give you a spring in your step.

To cool the body down: I also find that cleavers tea is a lovely remedy to help to cool down, especially for children who get very hot and sweaty. It is a safe and gentle herb and most people can benefit from drinking it.

TOP TIP: If you are prone to swollen glands then it can also be worth making an infused oil from cleavers. Infused or macerated oils are ways of extracting medicinal plants so that they can be easily applied to the skin. Cleavers infused oil can be very helpful when applied to swollen glands. Again, this is something that you will have to make yourself. I haven’t ever seen or encountered this extract being produced for sale by any herbal company. I teach how to make infused oils and all common herbal extracts for home use at my workshops, classes and in my online course.

As a deodorant: Fresh cleavers make a really effective natural deodorant. The first time I made this I was astonished at how well it works. I’ve been using natural deodorants since 1990 and this one works so much better than a lot of the ones that I’ve bought from the shops over the years. It’s so simple to do. Take a large handful of the ariel parts (i.e. leaves and stalks). Put them in a pan. Pour on 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil, turn down, then gently simmer for 15 mins. Strain. When cool apply to armpits. If you have some left then pour it into a bottle and store it in the fridge. It will be fine to use for external use for 3-4 days. Sometimes I add a few drops of essential oil to this too e.g. rosemary but it works very well without this. Alternatively, try using your left-over cleavers tea as a deodorant. If you’ve made a pot of cleavers tea and haven’t managed to drink it within 24 hours, then try applying that as a deodorant. This won’t keep for as long though because it hasn’t been boiled so pour away any unused infusion if it is more than 48 hours old. There’s a video demonstrating how to make this extract in my online course. So far I haven’t come up with a way of preserving this so that it can be stored for use all year round…..I’ll let you know if I manage this. It’s definitely a skincare ingredient well worth researching

To reduce freckling: It seems to me that in centuries gone by, people were always trying to get rid of their freckles! Herbal books are full of recommendations for plants to try to reduce freckling. Cleavers is one such herb. It was recommended that the tea be used daily to wash the skin. I haven’t tried this because I like freckles and don’t really understand why people would want to get rid of them! If you try it yourself then do please report back to me on the results.

As a treatment to reduce fine lines and wrinkles: one of the students doing my online course swears by this use of cleavers! She makes a juice from them by whizzing up the little leaves with a drop of water, squeezing out the juice through muslin and then applying it to her face. She says the juice is deep green but soaks in very well. She read about this technique in the classic herbal book ‘Health Through God’s Pharmacy’ by Maria Treben, a well-known Austrian herbalist. Thanks so much to Sheila in County Clare, Ireland for bringing this little-known use of cleavers to my attention. It’s a great example of how much there is to learn, experiment with and try out. It’s such a joy to share our favourite techniques and recipes with each other. I learn loads from my students: it’s one of the reasons that I love to teach!

This use might surprise you too. This one is for the summer, usually late July-early Sept. You know when the cleavers gets those little green sticky balls (quite often cats get covered in them)? Those green balls are the seeds. When they are ripe (beginning to dry out a little and starting to turn brown) I harvest them, wash them, leave them to dry, roast them in the oven and then grind them. They make the best herbal coffee that I’ve ever tasted (and I am a proper double-espresso drinker so I wouldn’t fob you off with any old rubbish!). Cleavers seed coffee has such a rich taste, with hints of vanilla in it I think. It’s caffeine-free, nourishing and believed to give the immune system a bit of a boost.There's a video lesson showing the whole process from plant to cup in the High Summer edition of my online course.

A remedy for bites: Old herbal books recommend cleavers for treating the bites of snakes, spiders and other venomous creatures. The sources I have read do not state whether this is taking cleavers internally or applying it externally so I can’t give any specific advice (or indeed speak from experience in this case, thankfully I haven't been bitten by a snake so far). However, I mention it here on the off chance that one day this snippet of information may save your life should you find yourself bitten by something poisonous and are unable to reach a hospital! Which brings me on to the final thing about cleavers that I’d like to share with you today……

Cleavers has been used to treat leg ulcers, even very stubborn ones that have refused to heal. Leg ulcers are common in the elderly and are notoriously hard to treat. They are made worse by poor circulation and inactivity. Fortunately there are many herbal treatments that can work well in poultice form and help to bring relief to this chronic condition. Poultices of fresh cleavers can be made. Regularly applying these poultices can encourage the skin to grow and healing to occur.

In fact, cleavers has such an excellent reputation for treating leg ulcers that it was once used by a doctor in St. Vincent’s hospital in Dublin. Back in 1883 Dr F J B Quinlan was so exasperated with how difficult it was to treat chronic ulcers and the issue of elderly people who had them being in hospital for months without gaining any relief that he decided to try out using cleavers on some of his patients. He sent his medical students out to gather cleavers to treat the patients and they started to get wonderful results even in the most severe cases. The medical team even managed to come up with a way of preserving the extracts so that some form of treatment was available when cleavers was out of season [you can’t pick most herbs in the winter because they simply aren’t growing then]. So impressed was he with the results that he wrote up his findings and sent them in to the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and an extract from the article is available to view by CLICKING HERE.

It’s wonderful to read a doctor writing with such praise and passion for this simple, abundant and inexpensive (free!) herbal remedy. If only it was as easy to get permission nowadays to try out remedies in hospitals as it was back then, our hospitals systems might not be so over-whelmed!

To think that this is a plant that so many people regard as an irritating weed and spend time battling with in the garden.

Just look at the list of useful and interesting applications of it that I’ve mentioned here today!

And there are many more too. New research continues to be published about traditional local medicinal plants.
It's fascinating that there's still so much to learn and discover.

I cover how to make your own herbal extracts at home from seasonal local plants* in my online course. My students are already discovering the joy of making things from the plants grow around them. Why not hop in and join us? You can enrol at any time but now is a great time to start as the plants come in to season and I’ll be doing our first live Q&A webinar of 2018 on Wed May 2nd.
*NOTE: Does not cover plants in tropical climates.

If you’re in Ireland (or fancy a visit to Ireland) and would like to come to a medicinal herb and wild food foraging walk or class with me then please
CLICK HERE to see my upcoming events.

Thanks for reading my newsletter.
If you have any suggestions for a herb or topic that you'd like me to cover in one of these special articles then please do email me with your ideas.

With warm wishes,


Vivienne Campbell BSc(Hons) MNIMH
Medical Herbalist
Mob.: 086 88 99 168
Int'l: 00 353 (0)86 8899168
Herbal Medicine Clinic, Co Clare, Ireland:


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